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National award-winning actor Adil Hussain, whose film ‘Pareeksha’ is part of the International Film Festival of India 2019, chats with NT BUZZ about what he looks for in a role, the independent film scenario in the country, and Hollywood

Danuska Da Gama| NT BUZZ

He has been a part of ‘Life of Pi’, ‘Parched’, ‘English Vinglish’, ‘Kabir Singh’ and several other popular films which have endeared him to the audience. Indeed, actor Adil Hussain has emerged over the years as a critically acclaimed actor, both in mainstream and art cinema, and has done films in various languages like English, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam, apart from Norwegian and French films.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Do mainstream films today compel us to think, or is it dumbing down the audience?

I think very few films across the country, perhaps one per cent of mainstream films, speak about certain issues. For example, ‘Article 15’ is almost a commercial film, but it talks about something important. This is true for even digital platforms except for mubi.com which has just entered the Indian market, and is the only platform that tries to bring in the independent art house. It is sad that we have not realised how powerful cinema is.

I don’t think our government spends enough money to promote meaningful cinema. The budget of National Film Development Corporation used to be `30 crores at least few years ago and that’s not enough for 1.3 billion people. High art is meant to help people to reflect on why we are, where we are, what we are, and our various responsibilities to self, to family, society, nation, to the world and universe at large. It’s not that easy to make such films and sell it. You need more money. So of course we are dumbing down people and I hope that we realise that and come out of it.

Q. From Assam to Delhi and Bollywood – what have been the most challenging times for you as you made your way up?

The most challenging thing for me is to find the fundamental laws of acting. For instance, why do I act? This continues to be a challenge because an artiste always continues to re-question why a project has been chosen. There is nothing right or wrong about the fact that you choose for money, but one has to be clear about it and face the consequences. As far as I am concerned, money is not the case. In fact I have done a film for free which will be premiering at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival on November 29. I did the film because I loved the subject. There are also those challenging spaces where sometimes you end up doing things and realise it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Q. Your film at IFFI 2019, ‘Pareeksha’, depicts reality like it should be.

The film is a story about a rickshaw puller and the dreams he has for his son to study in a better school, get a better job, and earn well. That’s the belief that our education system has given us; that if you have more money you are happier. If that were the case, Japan would be very happy. Every second or third person goes to the physiatrist because they are depressed with having all the money.

Q. Your new film ‘Raagir’ has also been creating ripples. Tell us
about it.

It premiered at Busan Film Festival and is in the NFDC Film Bazaar. Directed by Goutam Ghose, it’s a film about two human beings who have nothing in terms of resources but still practice empathy in a crisis situation.

Q. What are the differences between working in Hollywood as compared to Indian cinema?

I think we can learn from each other. In the Indian film industry, apart from a few films, we always have a great time during the making. In the West, most of the time, this is missing. The downside in India though is that we end up producing 90 per cent of films which are mediocre. In the West, although the films are not always excellent, they are up to a standard.

Q. Tell us about your much talked about appearance in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

My Hollywood agent was extremely keen that I work there so she had been sending me audition pieces for the last the four to five years. When I was in Washington DC, I got this message about the audition. I loved the scenes, did the audition on my phone, and sent it. In two weeks I got the role and it had been one of the joyous experience in my life because the efficiency is of the highest quality.

Q. Do Indians going to Hollywood, have an inferiority complex?

I think it varies from person to person. I studied in London and performed across the globe with my plays. I got the best reviews playing Othello. Before that, I had an inferiority complex. But when I got the recognition of playing the best Shakespearean actor in London, I realised I am not bad, I am good enough. So those things really help.

Q. Who pushed you to outdo
yourself then?

I have had teachers who have always egged me on. One acting teacher in 2009 watched my film, liked it but then asked me: “Now what? Are you happy just being good enough?” The teacher told me to not just be good or brilliant, but to try and push boundaries. So I am always on my toes taking my acting teachers seriously, not the praise or criticism.

Q. What is it that you look for when signing up for roles?

Of course money is a criteria. I have to pay my bills. But I know that I have to face the consequences badly when I do it for money. Mostly, I look at something that is based on a multidimensional truth about a relation, society. Also, I look at the attitude of the filmmaker, the attitude of the film, and whether it is a general disposition of truth and is one that is helping people empathise with the characters, including the negative character. Is the intent to tell the truth, which could be multiple? It has to be credible too.

Q. With the kind of independent films being made in India, do you believe that there is a new wave of cinema in India?

I think so! It’s just the start. Its twilight- a dawn of a new era in Indian cinema and we must be very vigilant not to fall in the trap of `100, `200 and `300 crore films. We should be happy with a few thousand rupees as profit.

Q. IFFI is not new to you. Being the 50th edition, your thoughts on how it can be made better?

I think it is a very positive sign that IFFI takes place, because very few people care about good films. This year, Russia is the country of focus. But when you think about it, we don’t know much about their films. Russian actors are also some of the best in the world but we don’t know their names. I am mesmerised by their acting. Also, at IFFI, people get to see films from various parts of the world which is amazing.  But at the same time, I don’t think Goa should be the only place to host IFFI. It should travel to Tier II cities and all capital cities should be the venue for IFFI.

Q. On a lighter note, if you weren’t acting, what would you be into?

I used to say I would have cooked, but maybe not. Maybe I would have pursued singing. I enjoy painting these days. I love art and I did my first sculpture when I was at the National School of Drama. Maybe I would have been a personal counsellor. I don’t know.

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